Key stage 1
This phase of education has become a more demanding and complex time with formal learning, testing and a strict curriculum is in place in schools from day 1. Children are expected to pick up the phonic skills and be reading and writing very early in this phase with demanding academic targets set even within the reception year.
Schools may flag up difficulties to parents, which can come as a shock and they are unsure how to help their child with early but complex skills, such as blending sounds and applying spelling rules.
Sometimes the school hasn’t flagged up any difficulty but many parents we talk to know when their child is not performing at the level required or expected, in relation to their other abilities. They may not be at the level to receive individualised extra support in school but without additional input, struggling pupils fall further behind their peers, year-on-year. The consequences are wide-ranging: long-term poor academic achievement, low self-esteem, lower motivation and disengagement with education long term.
There are also students who have literacy and numeracy skills beyond that of their peers and are finding Key Stage 1 work easy. Some parents are keen for additional learning opportunities as they worry that their child may become disengaged, bored or feel that their potential is not being realised through the lack of challenge at school.
Key stage 2
It is often in KS2 that parents begin to worry about how their child is doing. After that time ‘to settle’ and ‘to mature’ has passed in KS1, those niggling thoughts that their child may not be where they should be academically,become confirmed. This news may have come from a teacher stating that the child is not working at age-related expectations or that progress is not sufficient. Sometimes the parent may be ploughing their own dark furrow, knowing too well that their child is not progressing suitably, without clear assurance from the school either way. They may be hearing from the school that their child‘is at an expected level’ or ‘making progress’ when clearly, to the parents, this assessment does not explain what they are seeing.
Children at this age can often begin to show anxiety about school. From loving the early years, the realisation that learning is tough may, for some children, lead to them exhibiting various behavioural issues: they may be behaving well at school but their attitude at home may suffer. Having hidden frustration all day at school, they may be full of anger and have melt-downs over the smallest issues on the return home from school. Children may become withdrawn and unhappy; their enthusiasm and respect for school may diminish – they may not even want to go to school, perhaps feigning illness. Lack of confidence can spill over into other areas with a child not wanting to continue with hobbies as their self-esteem plummets.
Provision for children with any level of learning difficulties is a huge challenge for schools. Increasingly stretched budgets means that additional support is extremely limited; coping with the range of needs of 30 or so children in a class, often with a few children with challenging behaviours, requires a feat of often super human proportion. Frequently, help for children with any level of special need falls to the least qualified adult in the class room, with Teaching Assistants, being given the task to support this group: children that actually require specialist ‘teaching’.
The curriculum is not how parents remember it themselves. Many parents can remember chanting times tables and completing sets of column addition sums when they were in primary school, but their view into a 9 year old’s learning now sees improper fractions, past perfect tenses, rules of subordination, Singapore bar method, long division, percentages and translations. We regularly hear that attempts to help with homework often ends in rows between parents and their child, for example, when trying to impose a method that is different to the one the child is using in school. The input can confuse a child more and be hugely detrimental.
SATS at the end of Year 6 can be extremely worrying for many students. Schools pass on the pressure for results to pupils and their parents as results are an important judge of a school’s adequacy. Working up to these tests is very stressful for many children, with numerous studies showing massive increases in anxiety and mental health concerns of children within Key Stage 2.
There are children with other issues too – some are ‘very able’ in one area or more, yet, with a main focus of schools being to get all children to age related levels, the need of some to be extended and enriched, may not be adequately fulfilled, leading to some children being bored and frustrated.
Many parents often worry about the school their child will attend from Year 7. Increasingly parents are taking advantage of their right to choose, with growing numbers of parents considering grammar school education as an option. This requires their child to pass the 11+ exam. Although tuition for this is a controversial subject, many parents feel that preparation for this exam is vital to give their child a chance of passing.